What to do about Facebook?
The more we read about how the omnipresent and seemingly omni-powerful social media site operates, the more questions are raised about whether individuals and organizations should continue being associated with it.
Talk about breaking up being hard to do. As a community information provider that wants and needs to reach the largest audience we can, the Methow Valley News is among those wrestling with that question. Millions (billions?) of people, companies and other institutions rely (as the News does) on Facebook to readily and efficiently connect with friends, family, colleagues and followers to push out and exchange valuable information. For others, it’s just a mass marketing engine that loads and reloads annoying posts. Much of your personal feed probably is clutter you didn’t ask for and scroll past.
There seem to be three Facebook nations: the personal and professional users mentioned above, whatever their generally benign motives (yes, people gotta sell stuff), and the evildoers. By that I mean the liars, fakes, Jan. 6 insurrectionists and their traitorous enablers (every day, more credible, verifiable information emerges that clearly indicates a Trump-endorsed coup attempt was being plotted to topple the U.S. government), anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, 2020 election deniers, Trump cult zombie trolls and other right wing extremists (let’s call them what they are — domestic terrorists). Lots of overlap in those groups, by the way. That doesn’t even included the blatant scammers or the skullduggery of foreign governments like Russia, which gleefully prey on the gullibility of many Facebook followers.
It’s evident that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have a problem with any of that, as long as the billions keep flowing in. His own employees are coming forth as whistleblowers because of mounting alarm about his public pronouncements versus his ongoing practices. Hate speech? Political subversion? Deliberately misleading information? Propaganda of any variety? A toxic threat to democracy as we know it? Shameful rip-offs? Not happening, according to Zuckerberg — even as it does, and he pockets the proceeds. Profit rules.
Technical glitches also remain a problem — hacked accounts are all too common.
And yet — how to disentangle and start over, if that is your intent? The options are not readily presenting themselves — except for young people, who have already disdained and disassociated from Facebook. Many younger users have migrated to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Instagram, another favorite option for cultural influencers, is now under scrutiny for its potentially harmful effects on teens — which was uncovered by Facebook’s own internal research.
Facebook has been, for many years, a vital part of the Methow Valley News’ social media efforts. It took off during the 2014 wildfires, as a reliable source of up-to-date information, and has grown steadily since. We now have about 12,000 followers, more than four times our print circulation. It’s an important audience and we pay attention to it. We post throughout the day, seven days a week, with whatever current information we think will be valuable.
We have had one ironclad rule since the beginning: We do not post anything that we have not vetted. It’s either our own work, or reposts from organizations or other sources that are identified and credible. Many of our posts will take you directly to our award-winning website, where our original work for the newspaper resides.
As a practical matter, then, Facebook still works for us and transitioning to something else would be challenging for all concerned. But as a philosophical conundrum, concerns about Facebook’s operations and influence must be taken seriously. We’re not sure how that will be resolved, but we do know that a lot of users are asking the question, and some have decided to abandon their accounts.
Meanwhile, count on the News to stay the course and continue putting Facebook to its highest and best use. It’s still the most effective way for us to distribute information of value to a community that has come to expect it.